Laws are the instrument by which citizens, through their government, protect themselves from, and regulate their relationships with each other. But, we rely on the rule of law not only to protect us, but to empowerus, by creating an environment that is fair, equal, consistent, and transparent for people to pursue their lives and reach their potential.
Since its founding, my government, the Government of the United States has assigned the utmost importance to the Rule of Law.
At the core of our values lies our belief in the ideals of equality and justice under law. We are committed to the rule of law and to upholding the fundamental principles enshrined in our founding documents. Some of you know our founding documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — are the foundation of liberty and justice in my country, and I believe they can shine a light for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.
On the proclamation of Law Day in 1999, President Clinton said: “America’s founders recognized that the rule of law is the greatest guarantor of freedom and justice, a crucial barricade to protecting civilization from chaos and democracy from tyranny.”
Our trust in the rule of law, and our continuing quest for equality under the law, have defined our history for more than 200 years. The rule of law is the basis for freedom in our democratic society. As people around the world are shaping their futures, I am proud to see that they often look to our laws, our courts, and the independence of our judiciary for inspiration and guidance.
THE INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF THE RULE OF LAW
Earlier this year, while speaking at the UN General Assembly, President Obama said, and I quote, “True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and that businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.”
In an increasingly interconnected world where the role of civil society continues to grow in importance, the rule of law is no longer a matter of concern only to lawyers and judges, but has become a central component in a broad range of matters – security, economic development, human rights, criminal justice, intellectual property, business transactions, dispute resolution, human migration, environmental regulation and well-functioning government institutions.
The enduring legal principles of due process and equal protection under the law, judicial independence, access to justice, and a firm commitment to the rule of law will continue to help us address today’s concerns while anticipating tomorrow’s challenges.
As many around the world struggle to free themselves to reach their potential, the principle of the rule of law stands as a bright beacon guiding the way to a hopeful future.
It is very clear that if we are to further advance the causes of democracy and human dignity around the world, we must support the rule of law. In many countries emerging from conflict, we see the establishment of the rule of law as a critical first step. As President Eisenhower said: “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”
THE RELEVANCE OF IDLO’s WORK
All of these challenges illustrate why the United States Government is proud to support those who seek to affirm their rights under law by supporting the International Development Law Organization – the only Intergovernmental Organization with an exclusive mandate to promote the rule of law.
As with some of you, much of my time and energy in Rome is focused on food security. But in my previous role with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the ONE Campaign, and as Vice Chair of Transparency International USA – I came to understand, and truly believe, that rule of law is a critical component for our broader efforts to promote sustainable development and a more safe and prosperous world. As the World Bank’s recent World Development Report highlighted, the greatest threat to development and recovery is a weak rule of law.
So with this background, I am pleased to preside over my first IDLO Assembly of Member Parties. IDLO is a unique organization, working to help us, as the Member Parties, to better address today’s challenges in order to shape a more sustainable future. IDLO has addressed those challenges in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia, and is even doing so in the newest country in the world: South Sudan.
This is also the first Assembly of Parties for Director-General Khan. Since taking office, her energy, commitment and vision have already left an important mark as she injects new life into the work of IDLO and in the Organization’s future direction. A little later, we will hear from Irene about the Strategic Plan for the Organization.
As the FAO Director-General’s statement noted, IDLO brings a particular perspective to its work on the rule of law, one that focuses on the economic and social progress of nations and peoples. And one that works to ensure that “justice” is not only something we say as government officials, but something that should be experienced by people, wherever they live, around the world.
I am pleased to see that IDLO understands the centrality of its work to a broad range of issues. It’s leaders are preparing the Organization to build upon the traditional work of strengthening the justice sector, but also promoting access to justice for women, and promoting legal solutions for sustainable development and economic opportunity.
Because much of the work for most of your Missions here in Rome is, like mine, focused on the food and agricultural agencies, it is also appropriate to note the successful cooperation between FAO and IDLO on cross-cutting issues such as legal aspects of rural development, climate finance, and the green economy.
Indeed, the scope of IDLO’s work is impressive: from setting up the legal system in South Sudan, to supporting indigenous communities in Latin America seeking to access carbon markets, to using law and legal policy for an effective response to HIV/AIDS. In Somalia, IDLO assisted the authorities to develop a constitutional framework, bringing together political and clan representatives to have consensus on the structure of government and parliament under the new constitution in a way that minimizes the likelihood of conflict.
Because we recently marked World AIDS Day, I would like to share some statistics of IDLO’s work in this area. IDLO’s Health Law Team has trained 866 lawyers and activists on HIV law and assisted 735 clients with legal services related to HIV. In just the last year, nearly 8,000 people participated in IDLO’s legal education and outreach events.
THE INTERSECTION OF RULE OF LAW, GOOD GOVERNANCE, AND DEVELOPMENT
While the rule of law can often be perceived as a political, legal or technical matter, IDLO’s work demonstrates that it is much more than that.
The rule of law and functioning legal institutions are vital for good governance, which is essential to development, peace and security. Weak legal and judicial systems foster corruption, undermine progress toward development and in eradicating poverty.
Developing new laws, creating new institutions (and reforming established ones), ensuring compliance of such laws and regulations: all of these things contribute to promoting respect for the rule of law and ultimately for sustainable development. These aren’t just words, but the foundation that is allowing people to transform their lives.
Good governance promotes accountability, transparency, efficiency and the rule of law in public institutions at all levels. It allows for sound and efficient management of human, natural, economic and financial resources for equitable development. Good governance allows for clear decision-making procedures by authorities, and engagement and active participation by individuals and civil society.
As the importance of the rule of law is more widely understood, the U.S. Government is pleased, in our capacity as the President of the Assembly of the Parties of International Development Law Organization, to support initiatives that promote the rule of law and good governance throughout the world. Specifically, my government is proud to be contributing directly to IDLO to build the justice sector in Kenya and ensure women’s access to justice in Afghanistan, which one of our distinguished guests has just mentioned.
In closing, I believe that my government’s commitment to the rule of law has helped to inform, augment, and re-energize our work in confronting a range of challenges – from fighting crime and corruption, to promoting global security, good governance, and ensuring equality and opportunity for all. Today’s meeting further underscores the fact that this work must remain at the center of how each of our nations approach development.
I hope that, today’s proceedings, which can sometimes seem far removed from the courtrooms and markets and schools of the developing world, we all appreciate and reflect on the importance of the rule of law in promoting world peace and working toward dignity, equality, justice, and freedom for all.
As Secretary Hillary Clinton has said: “Durable democracies depend on strong civil societies, respect for the rule of law, independent institutions, free expression, and a free press.”
Speaking earlier this month she reiterated her point: “Societies are strongest when they deliver justice not just for the powerful, but for the vulnerable.”
Let us all work together to achieve this aim. Thank you.